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“You’re always so calm!”
People say this to me from time to time. They mean it as a compliment, of course, and I take it as such. It’s lovely to hear.
I’m not actually always calm.
I also sometimes get, “You’re so naturally calm!”
Pardon the peels of laughter and let me scrape myself up off the floor so I can type properly.
Thank you but, wrong there, too. Mental calmness does not come naturally to me.
It’s very important to me that my newsletter subscribers, social media followers, and clients understand that I was not gifted with some magic ability to be calm. If you believed that I was, then, whenever I shared insights and advice, it would be so tempting for you to discount it all and say “Well, it’s easy for HER to say that. She doesn’t GET it.” While I would never purport to understand everything someone is experiencing, I can assure you that it is not easy for me to find calm.
I have to work hard at this sh!t. Really hard.
It makes sense: I, like many humans, have a very active left brain. That’s the “thinking” brain and it is a well-oiled thought-generating machine. I, like all humans, have well-travelled circuits in my brain that lead to reactions that are not always helpful or conducive to feeling calm. In addition, I, like all humans, have an innate negativity bias, which means that I will naturally focus on the negative or jump to the worst-case scenario.
Our journey to mental calmness is fraught with obstacles.
When people perceive me as being calm, what they don’t see are the fears, worries, ruminations, anxieties, and other unhelpful thoughts that might be fluttering around in my mind.
What mental calmness comes down to is choice.
It’s choosing to acknowledge those thoughts and then focus on something else.
It’s choosing to fully feel an emotion for the 90 seconds it takes the body to process it and then shift my attention elsewhere.
It’s choosing to focus on calmness.
I know this sounds trite. You might be annoyed with what I’m saying. Perhaps you’re even angry about it. I know that, when I first learned this, I did not want to hear about how it all comes down to choice. No way. That p!ssed me off, to be honest. I was holding out for some magic bullet or knight in shining armour to help me. At the very least, I wanted to wait and see if my thoughts would align themselves just right and make way for mental calmness on their own.
Ha! That won’t ever happen.
Mental calmness is a choice we have to consciously make. It is simple... but it’s not easy.
When I say that I’m choosing not to engage with, say, a worry, I’m not implying that it’s as easy as saying, “Oh, hi, Worry! No, I’m not dealing with you today, darling. Goodbye!” and then it stays out of my mind forever. Gawd, no. I wish. It looks more like: Worry pops in. I get sucked in for a bit. Then I remember I don’t want to focus on Worry so I shift my focus to something else like my body, my breath, what I’m doing, something in the present moment. Then, Worry, that persistent little bugger, comes back. I might engage again. Then I remember to shift my focus away from Worry, again. Then it comes back again. We repeat the cycle over and over and over again. On some days, I engage with Worry less. On other days, I engage with Worry a hell of a lot.
But, every time I shift my focus away from Worry or whatever other thought is plaguing me, it’s the result of a choice I consciously made to do so. It doesn't just happen.
I know it sounds tedious. Exhausting, even.
But, what’s the alternative? Perpetually being at the mercy of the tyrants that are our thoughts? That doesn’t sound so great, either, but that’s what many of us contend with, merely because it’s the only approach we’ve ever known when it comes to our thoughts.
In reality, though, we have two choices: Be sucked in by the thoughts that don’t serve us or consciously shift our focus away from them.
Yes, while it does involve effort, the amazing thing is that, with practice, it gets easier. If a certain thought or type of thought continually plagues us, we can train our brain to focus less on it, by systematically shifting our focus away from it. Over time, our brain will automatically take us to those thoughts less and less.
In my next blog post, I’ll talk more about this ability to change the brain.
But, for now, the main thing I want you to take away from this is that mental calmness doesn’t just happen.
It’s a choice we must consciously make.
Thank you for reading!
LORA Concepts Inc.
workplace engagement & well-being
p.s. The information, insight, and advice I share through my work is meant to exist alongside whatever else you may be doing to bolster your mental health, manage stress, or improve your well-being. Nothing I share is meant to replace directives or treatment plans provided by your doctor, therapist, or other healthcare professional.